A New Term: The Promise

It is week 2 of 13 at work and it is filled with new faces, new courses, and lots of promise. I did something a little different last week during one of my lectures. I spent a good chunk talking about my expectations, good habits, things to avoid, and reminded my students to get involved. These points speak to the Fall term at university. I want big things for this term.

The reminder is also important for me. I am in my 17th year of teaching and this means that I am comfortable with my job. Comfort is great and has some pitfalls. I must remember that this new environment is filled with its own jargon and the new students are just figuring out the place–let alone my expectations on the first or second day. As I walked to the lecture hall last week, I had that bounce in my step and I was excited. It was great to see the new group. Welcome to campus, and welcome to my classroom. I know that this particular class is different, as it is team taught.

When I walk into the classroom, I think about my job and how important it is for the students. It is privilege to have an important part in their education. But, as I told them, they need to show up. They need to own their education. I am looking forward to this term. And, I really hope that my students are, too. I’m raising my coffee to my students. Rock this term!

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Another Letter to a First Year Student

Well, we are two months into a new term and it’s worth sharing this again.

I might be posting this one month too early, but it’s on my mind. And, I can always revise and post again, right? Here I offer a second installment. The previous one was really focused more so on academics and having a well-rounded first term or year at university. This installment is based merely on my opinion and experience as both an undergrad advisor and as someone who has taught first year students for my entire career.

  • If you live in the dorms try to schedule your study time at a time when you’re at your best. Chances are you are juggling a handful of classes, work, relationships, stress, and more. You need to manage your time well and I suggest that you schedule study time. This requires that you keep a schedule! Add all the assignment due dates to the schedule, and take advantage of the UVIC Library’s Assignment Calculator, and those suggested due dates in your calendar.
  • Find out where the gym is on campus. If you haven’t been there, go take a tour, and have a workout there. Get comfortable there because you’re going to need to stay healthy during the term and this includes eating right, sleeping, and exercising.
  • Find out where Health Services/Campus Clinic is on campus, and go by and check when you can get a flu shot. If you don’t believe in flu shots, then make sure you wash your hands lots, and cough/sneeze into your arm. This is so obvious that it pains me to remind people, but seeing so many leave the bathroom without washing their hands–especially during flu season makes me share this.
  • Find out where Campus Counseling office is and find out what services and workshops they offer for student success. It could end up that the Learning Center or Library offers workshops related to time management, skill-building, and more. At the campus where I work the Counseling Services office offers some great workshops and counseling sessions.
  • Before the term begins, walk around campus to get familiarized with the different buildings, and check out your classrooms, so that you don’t get lost during the first week of classes. Check out other parts of campus for good study nooks and crannies!
  • Google your instructors or at the very least look them up on the university website so that you know what they look like. Some of you might not care to do this, but others will want to make sure that they’re in the right class. You will also get familiar with what your instructor teaches and researches. This particular suggestion might be more appropriate for the transfer student, who is looking for a mentor. I’ll add to this one–go see your professor during her/his office hours.
  • Check out the student union and the different clubs on campus. You should seriously look at getting involved on campus. The degree of this involvement will vary among the students, but you really should get involved in a club or two. This will allow you a way to meet other people.
  • Your first year you are really going to take an array of courses and meet the general education requirements for your undergraduate degree. But, you really should refer to the university guidelines or department requirements for the department that you think that you will pursue your major in. Take a course or three in this area, so that you can make sure that you want to pursue this degree.

I will continue these letters to a first year student. The next one will most likely focus with peer mentoring. I truly hope that some of this is helpful! If you’re a student, bookmark this and save it. If you work with college students, please add more. I’m sure I missed something in this second installment.

Fri Fun Facts: Thinking about First Year Exams

Today’s Friday Fun Facts is about mid-terms and Teaching Assistants.

I have previously blogged about the importance of letting go and giving the Teaching Assistants more autonomy combined with guidance. This last week I facilitated a review session for the large first year class. This is the one thing that I have not let go of in the team-taught course–a sense of going that extra mile for the large first year class.

To be clear, if the course was not team taught with three other faculty, the review session would take place during class time. But the review session I offer is after class. This does add to my workload and I’m fine with this. I am thinking about how I prepare them for the mid-term and the process of working with the Teaching Assistants like a team. My role is to mentor the Teaching Students in this process of assessing student work.

1. I think that first year students need more guidance with their first mid-term. I understand that during the Fall term that the mid-term in my class might be their first mid-term ever.

2. I provide a list of possible exam questions so that they can study during the three to five days before the exam.

3. The exam will pull from the array, but not require them to write on all of them.

4. I grade about 10-20% of the exams in order to provide the Teaching Assistants with some sample marked exams and I also provide them a working key. I say working key since the students might offer us a different point on a question.

5. I view the Teaching Assistants’ work and have any D or F exams include a note that they must visit me during my office hours. I feel that these students should chat with me about their exam. I need to know what happened. And honestly in 14 years of working with first year students those that come to my office generally own their poor grade—didn’t study, didn’t come to class or similar point.

Overall, I do feel that teaching first year requires a more hands on approach. The jump to university work is harder for some students. And each year my students remind me of this. Good luck to all of us writing and marking exams!